All the crops are failing on a future Earth when a former astronaut leaves on a secret mission to check inhabitable planets on the other side of a wormhole, knowing if he ever sees his children again it will be decades away. There’s an ambivalence to many of the reviews of Interstellar, and I share it. The plot unfolded like the sort of plot I would expect to read from a talented fifteen year old science-fiction obsessive – clumsy, derivative, refreshingly ambitious, with flashes of excellence. The opening is particularly amateurish, as Cooper the astronaut stumbles on the secret NASA base, only for them to decide he’s really the one they need to lead their mission leaving in a few days. (Granted, we learn later the reason behind all this, but it still feels like a scene from a B-movie.) The most dramatic and interesting section occurs when the team must land on a planet that will cause seven Earth years to pass for every hour they spend on it. The tension of this dilemma is played for all its worth, and it is a truly gripping sequence.
Interstellar is a film of big questions; most of all, whether humankind (or as it keeps saying “mankind” – what is wrong with people that they are using such a word in the year 2014?) is capable of acting for the good of the species, or only as individuals seeking the survival of themselves and their direct descendents. I found it moving and frightening; it made me ponder death and space and time, and lose myself in its world. It is also visually and aurally spectacular.
Some random thoughts:
- Filmmakers have the perpetual challenge of representing scientists solving some great problem. In this film, as in so many, Nolan resorts to a blackboard filled with chalk. Groan! (But I do appreciate how hard it is.)
- The star, Matthew McConaughey, became one of my favourite actors after his performance in True Detective; at times, it almost feels like he’s channeling that character, Cole, in the more existential moments of this film. But not enough. I would have been quite happy for him to be fully Cole in this film.
- Jessica Chastain should be in more films. Maybe she’s the reason I thought of Tree of Life a few times.
- Just like in Nolan’s previous film, The Dark Knight, one of the central themes is the “noble lie”: we can’t tell people the truth, because it’s not good for them. The sort of thinking which the neo-cons used to justify war on Iraq in 2003.
- (Spoiler alert for the final point:)
- Are there some missing scenes in the conclusion that the studio made Nolan cut for length reasons? The whole point of the film has been Cooper’s attempt to be reunited with his daughter, Murphy. Yet after a few second of meeting her as an old woman in her nineties, she tells him to fly off to settle the new planet. That seemed very poor drama to me, undoing everything it had been working toward. The logic of the plot demanded that he spend some precious time with her; it seemed she only had weeks or months to go anyway.